Read Near Dark: A Thriller Online

Authors: Brad Thor

Tags: #Fiction, #Policital Thriller, #Thriller/Action & Adventure

Near Dark: A Thriller (5 page)

BOOK: Near Dark: A Thriller
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Things had only gotten worse when, in a moment of candor after a bottle of wine, Sølvi had confided in him about the night she was raped and confessed
to the abortion she had sought once she had learned she was pregnant. The operation had brought about a terrible infection, which, only now, did she realize had rendered her infertile.

But instead of being her rock, instead of being the best friend she thought she would always have to lean on, Gunnar had left her.

She had come home from work and he was gone—along with the dog they had bought
together. A week later, he served her with divorce papers. Her spiral back into drugs didn’t take long from there.

When Carl Pedersen found her, pulled her out, and forced her to get clean, she made herself two promises. One, she would never, ever touch drugs again. And two, she would never, ever fall in love again.

Turning away from the window, she began to pace, her thoughts returning to Pedersen’s
murder. There were many avenues of investigation she could take. While there had been no physical evidence discovered at Pedersen’s home, that didn’t mean they wouldn’t turn up something, eventually.

The problem was that the first forty-eight hours after a murder was the most crucial for finding clues and tracking down the killer. After that, the odds turned against investigators—dramatically
so. People’s recollections of what they saw or heard began to fade. Physical evidence started to degrade. Short of a confession or DNA showing up in a database, the crime wasn’t very likely to be solved.

Because Pedersen’s corpse had been in the house for days before being discovered, the killer already had a significant head start. Worse than that, the killer appeared to be a professional, someone
who had targeted Pedersen because of his position as an intelligence officer. Whoever the assassin was, he probably wasn’t the type to offer up a confession or to allow his DNA to be uncovered.

With Kripos—Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service—leading the murder investigation, there were plenty of experienced hands ready to run down even the smallest of leads. That left Sølvi and NIS
the freedom to get creative.

She already had their best teams combing CCTV footage from bus stations, railway stations, border crossings, and ports of entry. Anyone suspicious was run through facial recognition and compared against their databases, as well as all Interpol red notices from the last decade.

The killer hadn’t always been a pro. At some point, somewhere, he
must have made a mistake.
As far as she was concerned, no stone was too small to overturn. She was going to find that mistake.

But to find it, she was going to have to come at the case from a much different, much more personal angle.

Walking over to her desk, she glanced at the enormous etching hung on the wall behind it. It depicted Huginn and Muninn—
thought
and
mind
—the two mythological ravens said to bring the Norse
god Odin his information.

She sat down, logged onto her computer, and thought for a moment. Then, she tapped out an email. Reading it back, she shook her head, deleted it, and tried again.

Ten minutes and three drafts later, she finally had something that struck the right tone.

It was a big ask—on a lot of levels. It was also embarrassing. She had to do it, though. Carl Pedersen would have
done it for her.

Looking at the time, she debated whether she should head home or just crash on the couch in her office. It was late and she was wrung out—both emotionally and physically. The pull from Oslo’s seedier neighborhoods as she drove back to her apartment would be strong. Probably too strong to resist. She convinced herself it would be better to stay.

In the morning, she’d go for a
run around the lake and then shower in the NIS locker room. There was a spare change of clothes in her office closet. By all appearances, she looked like a hard worker—and she was. Get far enough under the surface, though, and you saw that working—sometimes even spending nights at the office—was how she walled off her demons.

But there was no reason for anyone to suspect what she was wrestling
with. Carl Pedersen had seen to that. He kept her drug use secret and had made sure that when she returned to work that she aced her physical and no residual traces of illicit substances were detected in her system.

That was the kind of friend he was. He had not only helped her weather her own particular storm, but he had lashed himself and his career to her. Sink or swim, they were in it together.
He believed in her that much.

Ever the espionage chieftain, he had prepared a cover story for her. As far as anyone at NIS was concerned, her leave of absence had been due to the dissolution of her marriage. Dropping hints in the right hotbeds of office gossip, many coworkers suspected that she had gone through a period of depression. It explained everything without rendering her disqualified
for her position. Human beings were logical creatures. Give them a simple, plausible explanation for an issue and, absent any contradictory evidence, they’d accept it.

And despite her fear, everything had worked out—just as Pedersen had said it would. There was only one wild card: the person who had suspected her drug use and had reported it to Pedersen.

They hadn’t spoken. They hadn’t even
seen each other since she had returned to NIS. But that was the person she needed a favor from now. It was why she had agonized over the wording of her email. She was only going to get one shot, if at all.

The CIA’s Oslo station chief was as buttoned-up and professional as they came. There’d be a lot of questions. There’d also be some painful recriminations. They had been friends. Good friends.
But a lot of murky, not-so-nice water had flowed under the bridge since.

Making up her couch, she turned out the lights and lay down. She tried not to think of Pedersen, but as soon as she closed her eyes, her mind was filled with him. The thin gray mustache, the chain-smoking, the turtlenecks and perfectly creased trousers. She remembered his smile, and his warmth, and his patience.

At the
corners of her eyes, she could feel tears beginning to come. She fought them back.
Not now
, she commanded herself. Giving into grief only created a dangerous on-ramp. It was what had propelled her into the world of drugs when Gunnar had left her. She couldn’t risk that again. She needed to sleep. She needed to be sharp for tomorrow. Because it was going to be ugly.

Whether the CIA liked it or
not, they
were
going to give Scot Harvath to her.

CHAPTER 7

J
OINT
B
ASE
A
NDREWS

P
RINCE
G
EORGE’S
C
OUNTY
, M
ARYLAND

T
he Carlton Group’s G650ER touched down and taxied to a revetment area on the far side of the airfield. There, a Black Hawk helicopter—rotors hot—sat waiting to take the private jet’s passengers on the next leg of their journey.

Testifying to how fast the team had moved to get down to Key West, the aircraft hadn’t been catered.
The only food in the galley were shelf-stable items like granola bars, bags of chips, and beef jerky. That didn’t matter to Harvath. He hadn’t been interested in eating. Only drinking.

There was plenty of bottled water and energy drinks in the fridge. The bar area, though, had looked like a grocery store an hour before a hurricane was scheduled to hit. Every shelf was bare, all the booze having
been consumed on the flight home from their last assignment. “Work hard. Celebrate harder,” was one of the group’s many maxims. Harvath, therefore, prided himself on always having a Plan B.

Tucked away in the crew closet was the plane’s “bribe box,” a locked, hard-sided Pelican case that contained luxury items the team might need overseas in order to secure cooperation from foreign customs, passport
control, military, or police officials. Inside were envelopes of cash, sleeves of gold coins, cartons of cigarettes, boxes of high-end cigars, and bottles of exceptional booze.

Opening it up, he had withdrawn a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Sinatra
Select Tennessee Whiskey, discarded the gift box, and headed back to his seat, pausing only long enough at the bar to grab a glass, a few cubes of ice,
and a bottle of water. His plan was to continue keeping reality at bay for as long as possible. After all, he hadn’t asked to be scooped up and he’d be damned if he was going to stop drinking. They could force a rescue on him. They couldn’t force sobriety.

Positioning himself in the very back of the plane, he made it clear he wasn’t interested in interacting with anyone. He simply wanted to be
by himself. There’d be plenty of time for talking once they got to wherever it was they were going.

If they had been headed to The Carlton Group, they would have landed at Dulles International. If the White House, Harvath’s house, or some other D.C.-area location had been their final destination, the closest airport would have been Reagan. You chose Andrews Air Force Base for secrecy or security.
Considering that they were carrying a dead body, he supposed both probably applied.

He had no idea how they were going to move the body bag, out in the open, and honestly, he didn’t care. This was not his op and, therefore, not his problem.

Stopping by the bar on his way off the plane, he dumped his drink into a plastic roadie cup and followed the team down the air stairs. Sloane, who had always
had a soft spot for Harvath, walked with him toward the helo.

When she had been brought on board, the Old Man had made it clear to Harvath that he didn’t want him dating her. It hadn’t been necessary. She was good-looking,
yes
, but he was a good twenty years older. That wasn’t his thing.

Not that the bedroom concerned him. It was finding common interests outside of it that would have been the
problem.

Some men might have been able to make it work, but he wasn’t one of them. The age gap was just too wide.

It was all for the best anyway. She was a hell of an operator and he had nothing but respect for her. What’s more, he understood her.

To a certain degree, she was the female version of him—especially in the “using humor to diffuse dark situations” department.

She was complicated
and had a chip on her shoulder. He’d been the same way—young and in a hurry. Confident, yet with something to prove.

He trusted Sloane, as he did all his teammates, with his life. But his trust went even further than that. He also trusted her with the keys to his house.

When he had disappeared overseas to avenge the deaths of Lara, Lydia, and the Old Man, she was the one who had buttoned up
his place, pulled together a suitcase of clothes, and had it waiting for him down at Little Palm Island by the time he arrived back stateside. She had also included the framed photo of Lara that sat next to his bed. She was a good person and knew him so well.

Hooking her arm through his, she walked with him to the Black Hawk, held his cup as he climbed aboard, and then handed it up to him.

“You’re not coming with?” he shouted, as she smiled from the tarmac.

Nodding toward the jet she replied, “I’ll catch up. Got a little deadweight to take care of first.”

He understood. This was her operation and that made the dead body
her
problem.

Placing his drink between his legs, he strapped in and put on a headset as one of the crew members slid the door shut. The craft then began to vibrate
as the pilot applied power to the twin GE turboshaft engines. Seconds later, they were airborne. There was no feeling in the world like it.

No matter how many times Harvath had experienced it, and he had experienced it a lot, lifting off in a helicopter was always an incredible sensation.

The Black Hawk banked northwest toward the Anacostia River. Soon, he could make out the lights of Nationals
Park. Off in the distance, on their left, was the Tidal Basin and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

As they flew over the National Mall, depending on which window he peered through, he could see the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial beyond, as well as the Capitol on the other side of the helo.

D.C. was beautiful at night, particularly from the air. He had no idea where they were going.

After passing the White House, they continued northwest, flying over the Adams Morgan neighborhood and then the towns of Chevy Chase and Bethesda. Rockville and Gaithersburg slipped beneath the dark belly of the Black Hawk next.

Once they passed Frederick, Maryland, he had a pretty good idea of where they were headed. Years ago, as a Secret Service agent attached to the Presidential Protective
Detail, he had made this trip many times. He knew the terrain below them like he knew the scars on his kitchen table. If the helicopter went down right now, he could lead everyone to safety, as well as to a handful of supply caches and covert redoubts.

Closing his eyes, he took a sip of his drink and listened to the chatter over his headset. It was all so familiar—the radio communications, the
pounding of the rotor blades as they sliced through the pine-scented air, the bounce of the airframe as it was buffeted by updrafts from the mountainous forest several hundred feet beneath them.

Maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the nostalgia, but he couldn’t help but be taken by what a gorgeous night it was to be in the air. He was sorry they weren’t flying with the doors open.

When
the pilot gave the two-minute warning, he opened his eyes and looked at his watch. Twenty-eight minutes since they had passed the White House. Just as he remembered.

After checking his seatbelt restraints, he peered out the window and drained what was left in his cup. They were about to land on hallowed ground. It would have been disrespectful to hop out of the helo with a drink in his hand.

When the big bird came in, it came in hard and fast. It quickly flared and then touched down on the concrete helicopter landing zone. The rotor wash blew dust and small clumps of dirt in all directions.

Harvath glanced at his watch again. From the White House to Camp David, it had taken exactly thirty minutes. When everything had been absolutely turned upside down in his world, it was nice to
return to something from his past that was still the same.

Sliding open the heavy door on the right side, one of the crew members hopped out and made sure all the passengers kept their heads low as they headed toward a line of waiting golf carts.

Piloting them was a team of young Marines. Harvath headed toward the nearest one.

The name on the driver’s perfectly pressed uniform was Garcia. He
introduced himself to the Lance Corporal and she checked her list of berthing assignments.

Known officially as Naval Support Facility Thurmont, the two-hundred-acre Camp David retreat was established in 1942 under the FDR administration. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the President’s favorite retreat had been the presidential yacht, the USS
Potomac
, also known as the “Floating White House.”
But concerns over attacks, be they by air or by German U-boats, made it necessary to locate a safer getaway for the President.

The National Park Service had been charged with finding the right location. In addition to being extremely private, it also had to be at a high-enough elevation to remain cool in summer, so as not to exacerbate FDR’s asthma and allergies.

Despite the two-and-a-half-hour
drive from the White House, Roosevelt had fallen in love with the site, calling it his “Shangri-La.” The name stuck—at least until Dwight Eisenhower was elected President. He found the name a little too fancy and changed it to “David” after his father and grandson. It had been known as Camp David ever since.

Scattered amongst the twenty-plus rough-hewn oak cabins painted moss green were a massive
aircraft hangar, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a three-tee, one-hole golf course, tennis and basketball courts, a horseshoe pit, an archery range, a field house, a bowling alley, a movie theater, a bar and grill, a gift shop, a fitness center, a chapel, a fire department, a health clinic, a shooting range, a mess hall, and an underground bomb shelter, as well as barracks and support structures
for the sailors, Marines, and other military personnel who staffed and secured the facility.

“You’re going to be in Hawthorn, sir.”

Harvath knew it well. Considering that his previous visits to Camp David had been as a Secret Service agent guarding the President and as such had required him to sleep in the barracks, it was an honor to return as a guest and be staying in one of the cabins. Hawthorn
in particular.

Hawthorn was next to Holly, the cabin where Winston Churchill had stayed in 1943. He had been the first foreign dignitary to visit Camp David, then Shangri-La. Legend had it that he and FDR had planned the D-Day invasion right on the Holly cabin’s porch.

Harvath was fascinated with Camp David’s history. Arguably, one of the most famous things to have happened there were the Camp
David Accords—brokered by President Jimmy Carter and the heads of Israel and Egypt. But there were so many other, lesser known stories that he found intriguing—particularly from the days of the Soviet Union.

When Nikita Khrushchev visited in 1959, he shared President Eisenhower’s cabin with him. It turned out that, like Eisenhower, he was a big fan of American Westerns. The pair got better acquainted
over movies such as
High Noon
,
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
, and
The Big Country
.

In 1973, President Nixon presented Leonid Brezhnev with a dark blue Lincoln Continental—donated by the Ford Motor Company. The Soviet leader was so excited, he had Nixon hop in, and they sped off—without their protective details.

Barreling down one of the perimeter roads at over fifty miles an hour, Nixon tried
to warn his guest of a dangerous curve up ahead. Brezhnev either didn’t hear him or didn’t understand. He kept accelerating. Only as they entered the curve did he realize his mistake. Slamming on the brakes, he managed to steer through it, but just barely. Once safely out of the turn, Nixon paid him a wry compliment on his “excellent” driving skills.

Camp David was also the secure location Vice
President Cheney was evacuated to on 9/11. Three days later, President Bush arrived with several cabinet members, advisers, and generals. The mood, as one would imagine, was said to have been quite dark. The next night, before dinner in the Laurel cabin, Attorney General John Ashcroft joined National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice at the piano where they sang hymns.

Despite that mournful period,
the camp’s overall history was quite positive and uplifting. It was the one place the President and other influential world leaders could truly relax—even if just a little—and deal with the weighty issues of the day.

One of Harvath’s favorite quotes about the retreat came from a book
about President Ronald Reagan, who, after having left office, said, “The days I liked best were those Fridays
when I could break away a little early, three or three thirty, and take off for Camp David.” Those were some of Harvath’s favorite days at the White House as well.

As they drove from the helipad, they passed the Aspen cabin, which was reserved for the President and his family. None of the lights were on. This didn’t come as a surprise to Harvath. Not only because of the late hour, but also because
there’d been no sign of the President’s Marine One helicopter, as well as all the other security measures that got put in place when the President was on the property.

Harvath didn’t know who he was there to see. He also didn’t know what piece of intelligence The Carlton Group had that the Norwegians didn’t. According to his teammates, they didn’t either. All they had been willing to say was
that this was for his safety, and everything would be explained once they got to their destination.

Pulling up to the Hawthorn cabin, Lance Corporal Garcia put the golf cart in Park and said, “Here we are, sir. Would you like me to walk you inside and demonstrate how everything works?”

“No, thank you. I’ll be fine,” he answered.

“There’s a phone on the nightstand, along with a list of extensions,
if you should need anything. Stewards are available twenty-four/seven.”

“Roger that.”

“Have a good stay.”

“Thank you,” Harvath replied as he stepped out of the golf cart and walked up to the cabin door.

He thought about asking if the Shangri-La Bar in the Hickory Lodge could still be accessed, after hours, via a bad window in the back, but that had been a Secret Service “secret.” They were
the ones who, long ago, had rigged the window in the first place. He wasn’t sure the Marines had been read in on the caper. Better to keep it to himself.

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